Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
The first Dan Reeder song I heard was his meditation on death, “Maybe,” featured on an Oh Boy Records CD sampler. Oh Boy is an indie label founded by John Prine, who signed Reeder after hearing his demo cassette. His first album, Dan Reeder, was as one-man-show and homemade as you can get – he wrote it, played it, recorded and engineered it, did the artwork, did all the harmonies, and even made his own instruments. The songs are brief, thoughtful, humorous, and direct – profanity is sprinkled throughout in a way that somehow manages to be organic and not crude. It was the (NSFW) “Work Song” that made me a fan for life; it’s a song with one line repeated over and over, to perfection and beyond. As NPR said, “you’ll want to play it because it’ll ring true inside you, not because it’s gratuitously vulgar.”
Reeder’s only made three albums, mostly because it’s not his primary vocation: “I’m not a musician; I’m a painter,” he explained. Indeed he is, his art appearing in galleries in his home country of Germany and around the world. But as he also said, “there are some things you can’t paint,” and when he felt the need to express those things, he did so through song.
Lots of YouTube folks have covered Reeder’s songs; he’s not done so many himself, but the ones he’s done, like his originals, deserve to be heard. This is your chance to do so.
Originally based on works of Bach, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” in Reeder’s hands is far removed from the church-organ sound of Procul Harum, and even the lyrics sound less disoriented. Now it’s a quiet campfire contemplation, no longer meant to sweep you up but to drift alongside you.
This New Century, Reeder’s third and so far final album, featured three bonus tracks, all of them covers. The first was “Evangeline,” originally featured in the movie The Last Waltz, with Emmylou Harris joining the Band in telling the story of a drowned man and the woman who misses him.
When Sam Cooke sings “Bring It On Home To Me,” the light gospel feel comes through loud and clear. When Reeder covers it, harmonizing with himself and one deeply grumbling guitar, it feels more like the blues, right down to the final chord that takes nearly half a minute to fade.
“Stand By Me” is my favorite of Reeder’s covers, because it’s such a deconstruction of the original. You won’t hear the famous chord progression that was later echoed in “Every Breath You Take”; you won’t hear half the verses, you won’t hear any violins, and you certainly won’t hear “Darlin’, darlin'” the same way ever again. What you’ll hear is one passage repeated six times. Believe me, you won’t want it any other way.
Check out Dan Reeder’s originals on his Bandcamp page.